What is a Superapp?

16 August 2022

Contributor: Lori Perri

Superapps are still emerging as technologies, enabling them to mature; they promise practical benefits and richer experiences.

In short:

  • superapps can provide a more engaging and powerful experience for users.
  • They are built as platforms used for personalised app experiences through mini-apps.
  • Industries are adopting superapps to gain a competitive advantage.

A superapp (also written as super-app and super app) is just like a Swiss army knife with many tools that serve a purpose; only new tools (mini-apps) can be used and removed as the user needs. It runs on a platform that provides numerous, commonly used app services, such as messaging and payment. Superapp users can create personalised user experiences (UXs) by selecting and installing their chosen mini-apps (focussed on performing a single task).

“It is more than just a composite mobile app or web portal. Superapps are built as platforms to deliver modular mini-apps that users can activate for personalised app experiences”, says Jason Wong, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner. “And software engineering leaders should determine whether a superapp aligns with their composable business strategies.”

The superapp concept is expanding to include enterprise mobile and desktop experiences, such as workflow, collaboration and messaging platforms. Superapps will eventually expand to support chatbots, Internet-of-Things technologies and immersive experiences like the metaverse.

How superapps work

Users access a range of discrete services through an ecosystem for which internal development teams and external partners build and deploy modular micro-apps to the superapp. This provider ecosystem also amplifies the superapp’s value by providing convenient access to a broader range of services within the app.

A number of technology vendors already provide tools and platforms that help software engineering leaders to build superapps.

Examples include:

  • Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) vendors providing a cloud platform solution

  • Front-end frameworks enabling deployment of mini-apps in web and mobile apps

  • Multiexperience (MX) development platforms

  • Low-code application platforms (LCAPs)

  • Development services providers

Users can customise their superapp experience by selecting the mini-app they want to use when they need it in the superapp. The key is data sharing and includes simple user authentication, such as single sign-on (SSO) and tracking user preferences or app usage.

What superapps are used for

They are often created for customers to consolidate services, features and functions of multiple mobile apps into a single app, such as financial services. Software engineering leaders also build superapps to provide a more engaging experience for their employees. These superapps can help achieve economies of scale and leverage the network effect of a larger user base and multiple mini-app teams. Most importantly, they can improve the UX by enabling users to activate their own toolboxes of mini-apps and services.

The potential obstacles 

  • Creating the business ecosystem can become a bigger challenge than technology implementation. 

  • Different users prefer to interact differently with apps, therefore getting the design of a superapp right for the audience, along with having consistency of the mini-apps published to the superapp, may impact adoption and retention.

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